Question Time 3 November (Northland pest control)

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

12. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: What percentage of forest in Northland currently has multi-pest control operations by the Department of Conservation?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY (Minister of Conservation): The Department of Conservation is responsible for 40 percent of the Northland forests. The Department of Conservation administers, therefore, 104,000 hectares of forest in Northland. Approximately 60 percent of this is under some form of sustained pest control. We spend $3.19 million on multi-pest control in Northland, and if you add what we use in weed control, which is a big problem because it smothers all of the native seedlings, the total is $5.87 million each and every year.

Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was a question on notice, and although that was a detailed answer, it did not actually address the question. The question asked what percentage of the forest was the subject of multi-pest control. The Minister told us what the budget was for multi-pest control and what proportion of the estate had some form of pest control but did not answer the point that was in the question.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I did not listen in detail to the Minister’s answer—[Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. I think, in fact, the question has been answered, but the way forward is that I will give the member now an additional supplementary question and he can delve into the answer that was given and, hopefully, get more information to his satisfaction.

Kevin Hague: Thank you. In light of that answer, what is the number of hectares in Northland that is currently the subject of multi-pest control by the Department of Conservation?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: For the purposes of clarity, I will spell it out again. The Department of Conservation is responsible for 40 percent of the forests in Northland. That accounts for 270,000 hectares, so the department administers 104,000 hectares, of which 60 percent is under some form of sustained pest control—and I will give you the numbers again if you like. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I would be grateful to be without the assistance of the interjection to my left.

Kevin Hague: How in Conservation Week does she explain why large areas of kiwi habitat forest in Russell, Ōtānerua, and Whangaroa have been reduced to sticks because of possum damage that has occurred on her watch?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: The only good possum is a dead possum. We do a great deal to control possums because they are the ones—the browsers—that destroy the canopy. So when you look at the way in which we increase our spending and how that protects the kiwi, there are a number of ways of measuring it. With 102,000 hectares of sustained stoat control undertaken by the Department of Conservation and community organisations as well, kiwi numbers, it may interest the member to know, are increasing by 2.8 percent per year across the whole of Northland.

Kevin Hague: How does reducing the budget for natural heritage protection by $7 million, as in Budget 2015, contribute to Conservation Week’s aim of getting New Zealanders out to enjoy nature?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: The Department of Conservation’s natural heritage management budget has in fact stayed the way it has been. The member is pointing out an accountancy practice, which is that $6 million has been carried over. If you want to know the reason for the shortfall, it is usually to do with weather conditions and it is to do with other acts of nature, which mean that we are not able to spend that amount each year, but that is carried over until the following year. There is no reduction in spending.

Kevin Hague: Does the Minister consider it sufficient to increase multi-pest control by just 50,000 hectares a year, when at least 1 million hectares of indigenous forest is needed to achieve a predator-free New Zealand?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: The Department of Conservation takes the pest control issue very seriously, and it would be most helpful if that party and that member stood up and actually made the point that 1080 is an essential ingredient in pest control. And we do this all the time. We have to increase our methods of using 1080. We have just in fact done a drop a couple of weeks ago. It is the first time that the department has been able to work collaboratively with Te Rarawa, and we have had 6,000 hectares of conservation land forest in these extremely steep, hard-to-reach places treated with aerial 1080, and a further 6,500 hectares of private land surrounding Warawara, which, as the member may or may not know, is extremely steep country and is unable to be trapped and poisoned in traditional methods, and that is treated with support from the regional council and with iwi. So in terms of what the department is doing with 1080 aerial use, we are doing our very best to get the possum numbers under control, because that is what needs to happen in Northland.

Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was whether a 50,000 hectares-a-year increase was sufficient, in the light of a million hectares nationally being required for indigenous forest multi-pest control. Again, it was a lengthy answer with a lot of detail about 1080 use in Northland, but it did not address the question I asked.

Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty is the question that was asked, which was not a straight question. Again, it was a lengthy question, and if the member wants to look at Speaker’s ruling 195/7—when a member asks a question that seeks an opinion, members cannot expect a precise answer. A straight question would be helpful.

Kevin Hague: Is it acceptable on her watch for more species in the north, such as kōkako and kiwi, to follow the kākāriki, which is now extinct north of Kawakawa, because of inadequate pest control?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: I can reassure the member and all other members of this House that as the Minister of Conservation I take very seriously indeed pest control. If we want to avoid silent forests, we need to use pest control and we need to use 1080 aerial drops, and that is what we are doing. The Department of Conservation has six regions throughout the country. The Northland region is one of them. It gets 17.6 of our natural heritage spending—so it gets more than other regions. We take it seriously. We are trying to convince iwi and other people who are 1080 sceptics that it is a very useful tool. The more we can use it, the more effective we can be in getting rid of the possums, the rats, the stoats, and the other creatures that are predating on our birds and killing them. This is not something I want to have happen on my watch or indeed in the history of this country.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given the very high unemployment levels in Northland, why have the unemployed not been enlisted in pest control operations against possums?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: The unemployed, in their various ways, can choose the way the want to spend their time, and if they want to go out and trap possums, I would be very, very pleased to hear it. Once again, if this member is suggesting for one moment that we are going to be able to resolve the pest problem in Northland by letting a few people who are out of work go out and do some trapping, that member is delusional because it is not possible to do that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! This point of order will be heard in silence.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: With respect, I am asking the Minister a serious question about one of the alternative means of pest control, and the last thing I want is abuse from her, and nor will I take it.

Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion I think the member is quite right. The last part of that answer was completely unnecessary to the question. The first part of the answer addressed the question to my satisfaction—maybe not to the member’s—but, certainly, the last remark was completely unnecessary.